John the Baptist, good old bug-eating and camel’s-hair-wearing John the Baptist, gets in the face of his congregation, calling them, “A brood of vipers.” You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled if your pastor did that, would you? Now, what could have gotten him so riled up?
John was angry because he saw that his people were relying on their national identity as a get-into-God’s-good-graces card. Instead of repentance, the people were expecting special favor for being “children of Abraham.” It’s as if someone today thought that being a citizen of the United States got them special pure and moral status in the world. As if being an American was such a worthy state God would bestow blessings without a second thought. This kind of nativism made John very angry. In response, the crowds around him wanted to know what they should do. In a word, John’s answer was, “Share.” Share everything you have that’s extra, he said. Don’t take more than you need. Share with everybody.
Of course, over the centuries, waves of immigrants have come to this country eventually enriching our world. And, in all that time, we have not always been welcoming. We have made those who were here before us feel like aliens on their own land; we have vilified nationalities–the Irish, the Italians, the Polish; and, we have brought whole peoples here against their will. It seems we have not assimilated as well as we thought because there is today so much acrimony and cruelty and disregard for people who are different, people who wear head scarves and turbans, and all those wo do not appear “white.” Most of those who have come here of their own volition came because our country means something good and safe and represents a home where their children can learn and grow. Why did your forebears come to America? What does it mean to call oneself an American? How do we respond to John’s call to share?
Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix, Arizona is establishing something they are calling “Hope Station Nogales” in Sonora, Mexico. It will be a ministry of hospitality and justice created for those in this country we call “Dreamers.” Built as a place for healing for these people who came to the US as children and have spent most of their lives in our country and may now be deported. It will be for those individuals who have family here, who have an attorney, who are not criminals, and who need a place to be among people who care for them and where they will find shelter and safe lodging and assistance. “The core of the Gospel is new life,” said the Reverend Bill Lyons, Southwest Conference minister. “Hope Station gives deportees a chance at new life near the border.” If you want to find out more about Shadow Rock and the Sanctuary Movement in Phoenix, go to: shadowrockucc.org.